Virgin Galactic Debuts World’s First Commercial Spaceliner

wandermelon received an update today (12/11) from Virgin Galactic (apparently the party really took-off, literally, after we left):  “We were all in the tents when the evacuation was called. 20 minutes after the last of the 800 guests had been coached away, the main 200ft tent literally took off,” said Branson. Gusts were reported of up to 116MPH, and local residents commented that the Mojave area had not experienced such a combination of high winds, rain and freezing temperatures for over two decades. Both spaceship and mothership were unscathed thanks to the rapid action of the crew as were all guests thanks to an efficient evacuation to waiting buses. Sir Richard added: “We were fully expecting to be blown away by our beautiful new spaceship but got a little more than we bargained for!”

[original post below]

The word “milestone” has to be one of the most overused terms in the popular lexicon, but the unveiling Monday of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, can truly be called a milestone event in the annals of travel.  The world’s first manned commercial spaceship, SS2, now christened the “VSS (Virgin Space Ship) Enterprise,” rolled onto the tarmac at Southern California’s Mojave Air and Spaceport on a bitterly cold and windy desert night December 7, wowing a crowd of 800 dignitaries, media and Future Astronauts: the persons lucky enough to have secured their place on the spaceliner’s future journeys.

SS2 out of the hangar for the first time

SS2 out of the hangar for the first time

The event itself was equal parts spectacle and science fiction come-true, as high-profile personalities including California Gov.  Arnold Schwarzenegger, aviation legend Burt Rutan and Virgin Founder Sir Richard Branson, opined about the significance of the craft and the future of commercial space travel.

As might be expected at a soiree thrown by Sir Richard and Virgin, there was great swag (beautiful black Puma jackets emblazoned with Virgin Galactic logo); fine food and drink─Absolut martinis chilled by over-sized “ice diamonds” hand-carved in Sweden (ice cubes, puh-leez)─and a crowd of the rich, the beautiful, and the notable, all recorded by wall-to-wall media.

Sir Richard Branson holds center stage

Sir Richard Branson holds center stage

An expansive tent sheltered all 800 attendees from the wind and intermittent rain, but didn’t do much good shielding guests from the 30-something-degree temperatures outside. As cold as it was, enthusiasm ran high, with the buzz of the crowd building steadily as dignitaries began taking the stage. Soon, however, some measure of hot air was provided by Governors Schwarzenegger and Bill Richardson of New Mexico, who jokingly took swipes at each other and their respective state’s merits and importance to the program (although the SS2 was designed and built in California, New Mexico will be the site of the Spaceport which will serve as Mission Control and World Headquarters for Virgin Galactic).  Burt Rutan and Sir Richard lent their enthusiasm to the day, with Rutan, designer of the VSS Enterprise’s predecessor, SpaceShipOne, winner of the Ansari X-Prize for completing the first manned private space flight, commenting that out of this “crummy little desert town” greatness and innovation had been achieved.

But it was the SS2 everyone had come to see, and she didn’t disappoint. Taxiing slowly down the tarmac, the glistening white spaceliner, comprised of the VSS ENTERPRISE and the VMS EVE mothership, gradually appeared from the darkness through smoke, flashing lights and thumping techno worthy of an arena rock concert.

“It is simply the most glamorous spaceship ever created,” commented Diana Goncalves, a Miami-based Future Astronaut. “It was an emotional experience seeing it, the cold didn’t matter at all.”

SpaceShipTwo Fast Facts:

Timing: SpaceShipTwo was unveiled on 7th December 2009. Test flight program will commence immediately; first passenger flights will begin approximately Q3 2011.

Size: SS2 is around twice as large as SS1 and will carry 6 passengers and 2 pilots.

Cabin size: Cabin is approximately the size of a Falcon 900 executive jet; large windows positioned throughout the cabin to afford maximum viewing potential for passengers.

Dimensions:  Wing span: 42ft.  Length: 60 ft.  Tail height: 18 ft (Feather down).

Construction:  100% carbon composite.

Propulsion: Hybrid rocket motors.

Flight Profile: SS2 is released by mothership at 55,000 feet, continues solo to over 350,000 feet, the edge of space.

Flight time: Trip’s duration is approximately two hours.

Experience: All passengers will be able to float in Zero G and enjoy view of Earth and space for 1,000 miles in every direction.

Deposits: There are currently deposits from over 300 persons.

Cost: Flight cost is $200,000 (US).

Make Deposits: A specialist network of Accredited Space Agents has been set up around the world to accept deposits.

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